A Really Short Story

At one of my church performances I had a “wardrobe” malfunction, and the entire seat of my pants ripped out.  I was full of fear and panic as I tried to figure out how to keep from exposing myself to the audience.  Remembering the training I received in high school drama class, I was able to complete the performance without turning my back to the audience.

That is one of the stories I tell in much greater detail in my autobiographical one-man show called Truth Be Told… From a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. In my storytelling seminars I have been encouraging people to tell really short stories.  My friend Tom Long, the director of Friends of the Groom, introduced me to this idea that he has been sharing in his workshops.  The concept sounds simple–tell a story in just three sentences. But it takes a bit of work to take a significant event from your life and distill it down to just three sentences.  Here is another one of mine:

My infant son became very ill when he was just 6 weeks old. He almost died and spent several days in the intensive care unit of the hospital as we prepared ourselves for the worst. Today he is a healthy young man who travels the world performing music.

Telling really short stories forces you to look at the essence of what makes a good story.  You discover that good stories are almost always about something going wrong.  In the dramatic/storytelling world that is called “conflict” — every story needs one. And this becomes sentence number one.  Then you ask a simple question:  “what happens next?”  In this three-sentence structure you are forced to go for the main or most important thing that happens next. That becomes sentence number two. Then finally comes the resolution, the final outcome… the “happily ever after”… or not… if the story has a tragic ending. That becomes sentence number three.

Telling really short stories has a number of very practical applications.  If you are a pastor, speaker, or writer, learning to craft these stories can be a great way to grab an audience’s attention and do it quickly.  Often a writer or a speaker will start a story and then take rabbit trails, adding too many details or taking off on a tangent that leaves the audience wondering where this is going or what happened next in the main story.  In the process we can totally lose the listener.  Three-sentence stories help both the presenter and the listener to keep the proper focus.

But even in just everyday life, knowing how to tell a really short story can be a great way to start a conversation. Really short stories beg questions.  People will want to know more details and this can be an excellent way to build relationship and community with others in our lives. You might also find that the process of remembering these stories is a great way to reflect on life and the lessons you have learned along the way.

So go ahead, take a minute or two or ten. Think of a significant event:  funny, sad, impacting, or life-changing.  Try to tell it in just three sentences.  In fact, you can share it here in the comments.  Your really short story might be just the thing somebody else needs to hear!

2 thoughts on “A Really Short Story

  1. Evelyn says:

    this is good practice for creating sermons! Thanks Chuck!
    Evelyn >

  2. Kristy Byers says:

    Exact same concept writing comedy. Except you have 2 to 3 SHORT set-up lines and then the SHORT Punch Line and you are allowed one more tag lag, but it must be funny. It’s kind of hard to do, but once you learn it you find you do it all the time.

    My everyday conversation of become, Set-up line, set-up line, punch and tag. Drives people nuts I’m sure…but it gets the laughs.


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